The Legend of Hillbilly John (1974)

Article 2415 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-6-2007
Posting Date: 3-23-2008
Directed by John Newland
Featuring Hedges Capers, Denver Pyle, Susan Strasberg

A ballad singer from Appalachia becomes a defier; he battles evil with the help of his silver-stringed guitar.

This unusual and interesting fantasy is based on stories by Manly Wade Wellman, and to some extent, the movie feels a bit like an anthology with the same basic setting and several repeating characters. There’s something truly engaging about the concept, the setting, and the characters, with Denver Pyle and Severn Darden both quite memorable as the grandfather and the mysterious dowser who help the main character. I just wish it was better; the movie is quite confusing at times, especially in the early scenes, and Hedges Capers (as the title character) seems a little too seventies-leading-mannish to really make his character feel authentic. The music is a mixed bag; on a song by song basis, the music works best in proportion to how close it sounds to real folk ballad music and to how far it sounds from seventies singer-songwriter fare. The song that plays over the credits comes off best. The special effects are low-budget, but have a real charm, especially the “ugly bird”. If anything, it makes me want to seek out the Wellman stories and check them out myself; I sense a really great movie could be made from them, and could succeed where this one (a noble effort nonetheless) falls short.



The Lost Moment (1947)

Article 2408 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-30-2007
Posting Date: 3-16-2008
Directed by Martin Gabel
Featuring Robert Cummings, Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead

A publisher discovers that a certain house in Venice contains several love letters by a famous poet, and, in hopes of getting his hands on them, he disguises himself as a writer so he can move into the house. He discovers some haunting and bizarre secrets about the ancient matriarch that owns the house, and her niece.

This movie is based on a novel by Henry James, who also wrote “The Turn of the Screw”, the famous horror story that served as the basis for THE INNOCENTS . This one is not a horror story, but there are some surprising horror elements to it; the daughter has a truly strange split personality, in that she ends up believing that she is her aunt at a much younger age when she was romancing the poet in question. Combine that with a spooky old house, and you actually have enough eeriness here to make the movie less marginal than it might seem. In fact, I found it reminiscent of HOUSE OF USHER , with the ancient Matriarch of this movie (Agnes Moorehead) somewhat similar to the Roderick Usher character in that movie. The movie’s biggest problem is that it is rather talky, and it requires a certain amount of patience to sit through. Those who do manage, though, may find themselves engrossed by the very interesting story, and it does bear some resemblance to “The Turn of the Screw”, in that madness and obsession with the past both play major roles in the story. The movie also features Eduardo Ciannelli in one of the more sympathetic roles I’ve seen him in.


Last Bride of Salem (1974)

Episode of “The ABC Afternoon Playbreak”
Article 2391 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-13-2007
Posting Date: 2-28-2008
Directed by Tom Donovan
Featuring Bradford Dillman, Lois Nettleton, Joni Beck

A family moves to Salem Village and hears an eerie tale about witches that sacrifice the descendants of an enemy to gain immortality. The wife of the family begins to suspect that they may be targeted for sacrifice.

On the plus side, the story manages to muster up a bit of atmosphere, and it manages to keep from going on too long. On the minus side, the story is quite predictable, right down to the final twist. I also don’t care for Lois Nettleton’s performance as the wife; though she’s a decent actress in general, she’s too perky and given to florid hand gestures which tend to distract from the reality of the moment. On the trivia side, the fact that some of the characters are named Whately makes me hearken back to Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror”, and the movie features an early role by John Candy, though he really isn’t given anything more to do than to fill in the tableau. On the personal side, my copy is rather muddy-looking, and this further takes away from my viewing enjoyment. To me, it adds up to a mixed bag.


Lizzie (1957)

LIZZIE (1957)
Article 2341 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-23-2007
Posting Date: 1-9-2008
Directed by Hugo Haas
Featuring Eleanor Parker, Richard Boone, Joan Blondell

A troubled young woman is receiving threatening notes from a woman named Lizzie. What she doesn’t know is that Lizzie is actually one of three personalities that she has. She sees a psychiatrist for help.

Having seen SYBIL just a short while ago, I was bound to find this exploration into multiple personalities (based on a Shirley Jackson novel) rather simplistic. It’s also dismissed as campy by some viewers, and I can see certain reasons why; I found both Joan Blondell (as Elizabeth’s/Beth’s/Lizzie’s drunken aunt) and Eleanor Parker (in her Lizzie incarnation) to be rather over the top. Nevertheless, I quite like the movie; it makes a real attempt to be realistic and insightful, it avoids some of the pitfalls that plague other movies about psychiatry, and we grow to care about many of the characters. Richard Boone is excellent (and definitely non-campy) as the psychiatrist. The use of hypnotism here is fairly realistic, and I give the movie credit for never mistakenly using the word “schizophrenia” to describe Elizabeth’s condition and for also eschewing a romantic relationship between Elizabeth and the psychiatrist. It’s only marginally fantastic, with Elizabeth’s madness and the presence of hypnotism being common horror elements, though they are not used for horror here at all. This movie was actually released previous to the similarly-themed THE THREE FACES OF EVE, though in the same year.


The Lost World of Sinbad (1963)

aka Dai tozoku
Article 2336 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-18-2007
Posting Date: 1-4-2008
Directed by Senkichi Taniguchi
Featuring Toshiro Mifune, Tadao Nakamaru, Mie Hama

Sinbad does battle with an evil premier who is planning to poison the king and marry the princess himself. Sinbad enlists the help of a gang of bandits and a cursed magician to help him. He must face the palace guard, a pirate, and an evil witch as his foes.

All right, it isn’t really Sinbad; in reality, it’s a character named Luzon which got changed to the more familiar Sinbad for American audiences. And he doesn’t visit any “lost world”, either; don’t strain your eyes looking for dinosaurs and prehistoric monsters. Still, even if it isn’t technically a Sinbad movie, the plot is certainly familiar enough to those familiar with Arabian Nights cinema, what with an evil premier conniving to get the princess for his own. The biggest plus is the presence of Toshiro Mifune in the title role; he’s such a charismatic actor that he still manages to entertain tremendously in one of his lesser roles. The witch (played by a man) is incredibly ugly and desperately needs a good orthodontist; she’s the closest thing to a monster here. The special effects are variable; some are good, and some are not so good. The fight scenes are very exciting, though, and the movie delivers a satisfying amount of spectacle. If you can get past the weak dubbing, you might find this one quite enjoyable.


The Legend of Hell House (1973)

Article 2335 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-17-2007
Posting Date: 1-3-2008
Directed by John Hough
Featuring Pamela Franklin, Roddy McDowall, Clive Revill

A physicist, his wife, a mental medium and a physical medium are hired to enter a haunted house and find proof of life after death. They find themselves at the mercy of a truly frightening menace.

I’d heard about this movie for years, and I have vivid memories of seeing the ads for it on television in the early seventies. I’m quite happy to finally be watching it, and I’m also happy to discover that it is not a disappointment. In fact, I’m adding it to my list of favorite haunted house movies, along with THE HAUNTING , HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL and THE UNINVITED . It starts out conventionally enough, with four people setting out to spend a week in the haunted house, with Roddy McDowall in what amounts to the Watson Pritchard role; he’s the sole survivor of another party that stayed in the house, and much of his early dialogue centers around how they’re all doomed. However, as the movie progresses, the exact nature of the haunting becomes more complex, as do the characters themselves, and the movie is full of fascinating and intriguing revelations. The performances are all fine, with McDowall giving one of his very best ones here. The use of sound is simply outstanding; silent is used to good effect, and the music and sound effects that do show up actually seem to lurk around the edges of the movie rather than coming out front and center, giving a truly eerie air to the proceedings. Not everyone will survive, but the movie is set up in such a way that you simply don’t know who will live and who will die. And, to top it all off, the movie has a great uncredited cameo appearance, and for those who haven’t seen the movie, I won’t give away who it is; I didn’t know, and I was surprised and delighted when the moment came. This is one I definitely recommend.


Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974)

aka Non si deve profanare il sonno dei morti, Don’t Open the Window, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue
Article 2278 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-18-2007
Posting Date: 11-7-2007
Directed by Jorge Grau
Featuring Cristina Galbo, Ray Lovelock, Arthur Kennedy

A new machine that uses sonic waves to destroy insect life has an unfortunate side effect; it brings the dead back to life and makes them flesh-eating zombies.

Yes, it’s another flesh-eating zombie movie modeled after NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD . But it’s a good one; it does a nice job of ratcheting up the suspense, it doesn’t follow its model slavishly, and it has some good ideas of its own. Still, I do wish it had pursued some of its ideas further; I liked the touch that babies born during the time the machine was being used are also aggressive killers, but it never does anything with the idea once it’s introduced, and it ignores the effect it might have on non-human and non-insect life. It’s a little too insistent on its ecological themes at times, and the “it’s only a movie” tagline had already been used several times before, but these are fairly minor quibbles. It’s definitely one of the better zombie movies from the era out there, and the bloody mayhem is definitely not for the squeamish.